I took the CISSP in 2004 with two friends from work. I failed and they both passed. Here’s why-
In 2001 I took my first IT certification test- Cisco’s CCNA. I had heard this was a difficult exam but didn’t have an opportunity to actually talk to someone who had taken it. Because it was my first cert, I was very scared and nervous. I had absolutely zero confidence in my ability to pass it. Fortunately, I was also leaving the Marine Corps and was even more scared about being unemployed.
I paid a friend cash and he let me use his credit card to order a CCNA book and register or the exam. I studied for about a month, going through what I would describe as an “academic fight or flight” scenario. I was reading the book every chance I got, more than was probably healthy. I could do hexadecimal conversions in my sleep and subnet during breakfast.
When the big day came to take the exam I felt reasonable confident. The exam was schedule to last 90 minutes, I finished in 17. Passed with flying colors. Either the test was much easier than I expected or I simply over studied for it. I assumed the latter and chalked it up as a learning experience.
Fast forward to 2003 and the CISSP. The book was bigger than the other exams but I wasn’t worried. I was smart, why should I worry? Don’t get me wrong, I studied hard, usually reading every day. I planned a study schedule so that I would be finished reading the book about a week before I took the exam. My friends were putting in more work than I was, but they didn’t have the experience acing test like I did.
On the day of the test, I finished in a little more than two hours, that’s faster than most people. I was reasonably sure that I passed. Why wouldn’t I? I had never failed before, it just wasn’t something that I thought about. Two week later my two friends got the “Congratulations” e-mail, and I got the “Thank you” e-mail. I was devastated. Not only had I failed, but my two friends both passed. I learned a few things from that experience.
- Understanding concepts is more important than memorizing facts that you assume will be on the test
- You can’t over study for the CISSP, the more you study, the more you will be able to apply the concepts
- Your can’t plan on studying “just enough to pass”
I rescheduled the exam and started over. The healthy dose of embarrassment from failing gave me the motivation to buckle down and really start learning the concepts.
Image courtesy Zach Klein
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